1636: The Ottoman Onslaught – Snippet 62

She shook her head but gave him a smile. There was a fine protocol involved here. If he hadn’t offered her the wine she’d have bridled that he was treating her as a child. But, so long as he did, she almost always declined. Denise wasn’t a teetotaler, exactly, certainly not as a matter of principle. But the truth was that she didn’t much like the taste of alcohol.

She never had. Whatever other concerns her mother and father had had about the possible consequences of Denise’s sometimes reckless behavior, they’d never worried she’d do something because she got drunk. Because she got pissed off, yes; rebellious, yes; just to prove to some jerk that he was in fact a jerk, yes. Drunk, no.

Having fulfilled his necessary part in the protocol, Eddie — who did like wine; and beer; and most spirits, thank you very much — settled down in another chair in the front room of the hotel suite.

For “suite” it was — and in one of the two finest hostelries in Prague.

“You’re shooting from the hip again, Denise,” said Eddie. “The weld shop and the rental storage facility? Pfft.” That last noise exuded insouciance. “Whoever bought the property from your mother probably auctioned off all the welding equipment and supplies and tore down the storage facilities.”

“Auctioned them off, actually,” corrected Christin. She smiled and shook her head. “Didn’t get a lot for them, of course. They were basically just sheds with delusions of grandeur. But Buster’s stuff sold well.”

“Mom! You sold Dad’s stuff?”

Christin’s expression was exasperated. “For fuck’s sake, Denise” — Christin George belonged to the Rita Simpson (née Stearns) school of Proper Appalachian Patois — “what was I supposed to do? Keep your father’s arc welders and oxy-acetylene cylinders at my bed side?”

“Well…” Denise couldn’t really contest the point, but she had a stubborn expression on her face. “Still. Even his stuff couldn’t have brought in that much.”

“Real estate,” said Eddie. “The real value would have been in the storage rental property — because of what it sat on. The buildings may have been sheds with delusions of grandeur but they were still buildings and they spread out over a lot of area.” He looked to Christin. “How much land did you own?”

“About half an acre.”

He turned back to face Denise. “You have any idea how much half an acre is worth these days inside the Ring of Fire?”

“No.” Denise’s expression got more stubborn. “Neither do you.”

He chuckled. “Not precisely, but it doesn’t matter. What I do know is that your mother walked away from the sale with enough to set herself up — in style, mind you — almost anywhere outside of the Ring of Fire.”

A look of sudden understanding came to his face. “That’s the other reason you’re here, isn’t it? This isn’t really a visit.”

Christin shook her head. “Don’t know for sure yet, but probably not. I do want to be closer to my daughter and” — her face became a little drawn — “Grantville’s just got too many memories of Buster. I don’t want to forget any of them but I don’t need to be reminded of them every day, either.”

She shook her head slightly, as if to clear those thoughts away. “I wrote to Judith Roth and she talked to Morris and they told me that if I came out here they’d help me get set up with… something. Don’t know what it might be yet. There are several possibilities we’re looking at.”

Once Denise set her mind to being stubborn, she had a lot of what might be called psychic inertia. “If the Roths are being so friendly to you,” she demanded, “why aren’t you staying with them instead of” — she looked around, clearly preferring to end the sentence with this dump except even when she was in full stubborn mode Denise didn’t lose her mind.

“This place,” she concluded.

Eddie and Christin exchanged a pitying glance. “She’s usually much brighter than this,” Eddie insisted.

“Yeah, I know, I raised her,” was Christin’s response. She placed her half-full glass of wine on a side table and leaned forward, looking at her daughter. “Denise, what happens if word gets out in Prague that I’m on cozy terms with Morris and Judith Roth? That is to say, the richest Jews in the city and probably among the half dozen or so richest people of any creed?”

Denise crossed her arms over her chest.

“Come on, sweetie,” Christin crooned, as if she were trying to coax a kitten out of hiding. “I know you can answer the question.”

“Everybody you deal with will try to double the price.”

“More like triple it,” grunted Eddie. His glass now being empty, he used it to wave around as a pointer. “This suite is plush, which signals to anybody that Christin’s not a piker. But you don’t need to be in Roth financial territory to be able to afford it, even for quite a few weeks.”

Denise was silent, for a moment. Then, she sighed and uncrossed her arms. “Okay. I really am glad to see you, Mom. And I’d like it if you moved here, I really would.”

Her eyes got moist. “I just miss Dad awful, sometimes. Really awful.”

Her mother’s eyes weren’t dry, either. “So do I, sweetheart. But life goes on, whether you want it to or not.”

“He used to say that a lot.”

“Yeah, he did. He was a wise man, in his own way. I didn’t marry him because of the bikes and the tattoos, you know.”

She grinned, suddenly, and in that moment the resemblance between her and her daughter was almost startling. “I admit they helped. I was a rambunctious kid just like you were. You should have seen the look on my fucking parents’ face the first time they saw Buster! Straddling his bike in his cut-off leather jacket with me perched right behind him.”

Denise grinned also. “Welcome home, Mom.”

Magdeburg, capital of the United States of Europe

Gustav Adolf rose abruptly from his chair and began striding about the room in front of his assembled audience. Who numbered only six, but the emperor was clearly in a declamatory mood.

“I will summarize it as follows, then,” he said. “Wallenstein — do I need to start calling him King Albrecht?” — ignoring his own question, he went on — “and Ferdinand will make peace. Indeed, they will go further and form an alliance within certain limits.”

He stopped and peered down at Janos. “Correct me if I oversimplify, but the gist of it is that Wallenstein will come to Austria’s aid against the Turks — within limits, of course, he still has Poland to deal with — in exchange for which Ferdinand will back Bohemia against Poland.”

Janos nodded. “In essence, yes. The qualifications –”

Gustav Adolf waved his hand. “Yes, yes, they’re clear. Also obvious. Austria’s commitment does not extend to any actions on the part of Wallenstein — somehow it seems slightly ridiculous to call him Albrecht II — whose purpose is to increase his territory at the expense of Poland. Likewise, Bohemia is under no obligation to support Austria in the event the Ottoman invasion is driven back and Austria seeks to expand further into the Balkans. What is most important to me in all this, however –”